Ajinomoto – the world’s leading supplier of the sweetener – took legal action against Asda in 2008 to challenge its use of the word ‘nasty’ to describe aspartame. Asda has also banned the use of aspartame in its own-label range.
However, while High Court judge Mr Justice Tugendhat (in July this year) agreed that aspartame was not unsafe, he concluded that calling it ‘nasty’ did not amount to malicious falsehood.
Asda hailed his decision as a “victory for common sense”, but Ajinomoto immediately lodged an appeal against his “baffling” ruling, arguing that it was “common sense that stating that aspartame is a nasty’ and that products which do not contain it are ‘good for you’ mean aspartame is potentially bad for you”.
The appeal will be considered by three judges in the first quarter of 2010, Ajinomoto has been advised.
Despite the fact that aspartame has been given a clean bill of health by the European Food Safety Authority, several retailers and manufacturers have banned it from product ranges as part of ‘no nasties’/clean-labelling initiatives.
But this was counterproductive, warned the British Nutrition Foundation in a document outlining its response to Food Standards Agency (FSA) proposals to cut energy intakes.
“To facilitate energy reduction in this sector [soft drinks], stronger support from the FSA for the use of non-caloric sweeteners is needed in terms of acknowledging their safety, in order to achieve lower levels of sugar in drinks.
“In particular, clear communications and reassurance are required with respect to aspartame.”
While there was nothing wrong with using more ‘natural’ colours, flavours or preservatives, too great a focus on avoiding ‘nasties’ could “detract from the major challenges in child nutrition: avoiding obesity, achieving adequate intakes of essential nutrients and avoiding excessive intakes of fat, salt and sugars”, director general Judy Buttriss told Food Manufacture earlier this year.
She said: “When it comes to prioritising the attributes of foods, their content of essential nutrients and whether they are high in nutrients we need to cut down on are far more relevant considerations than ‘clean’ labels.”
Ajinomoto, which has recently launched a PR offensive to change consumer perceptions of aspartame by branding it ‘AminoSweet’, said many manufacturers were “surprisingly ignorant” about what aspartame was actually made from.
While it would still have to be listed as aspartame on food labels, the new name highlighted that the sweetener was made from “two amino acids, the building blocks of protein abundant in many foods and drinks”, said the firm.
Food Manufacture is organising a conference called Food for Kids. It will take place in London on March 9 and will address the nutritional needs of children and offer advice on how to create successful, healthy, new products that appeal to children (and their parents).
This article was first published by our sister publication Food Manufacture.